Ya Beauty & the Beast ****1/2

I am about to confess something that I never thought I would ever write: I absolutely loved a panto.

It isn’t that I ever hated the idea of pantos.  I certainly understand the appeal, and anything that packs the audiences into theatre spaces that have been known to be vacant for some productions is certainly no bad thing.  It’s a cultural difference.  Pantos are very British and I grew up in the States, where Christmas shows are usually religious reflections, family-bonding stories or grand spectacles (usually in the guise of A Christmas Carol).  So more often than not, I’ve felt like the odd-one-out in a panto audience, usually unamused by the countless ‘he’s behind you’ chants and jokes based on passing gas or men dressed as women.

So, if I have one solid compliment for the Tron’s Ya Beauty and the Beast, it is this: I utterly enjoyed what I saw.

Is it a perfect production?  Nope.  Many of the songs, though cute and catchy, are quickly forgettable, and much of the plot is a tad too ridiculous at times.  But it is so earnestly performed by such a highly talented ensemble and so well directed and designed that I remained completely charmed by it all.  Natalie Toyne as Katie the Kangeroo, George Drennan as Barfolemew Beastie and Derek McGhie as Prince Charming were all complete joys to watch, and Sally Reid continues to impress me, this time having a ball as Mary Hill.

But if there is a standout, it is in the complete shock that Andy Clark, arguably one of the finest actors working in Scotland, is such a comedic gem as the dame Bunty Beautox.  He had me in hysterics most of the production and showed a few sides to himself that the previous performances I’ve seen of his hadn’t hinted at.

Ya Beauty and the Beast is not the best production I’ve seen, but it just might be this year’s biggest surprise.  It made me laugh and was a pleasure from start to finish.  And, as it is the Christmas season, I should also note its biggest effect on me: it has made me a believer in pantos.  And I cannot think of a higher compliment to award it than that.

Ya Beauty & the Beast plays at the Tron in Glasgow until January 3, 2010.

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